Biogen ready to steal market share with newly minted MS drug Plegridy

Biogen Idec ($BIIB) has added another bow to its multiple sclerosis quiver. With the FDA's approval of Plegridy, a long-acting form of its popular Avonex, Biogen can fight for an even bigger share of the MS market.

The company is already charging forward with its wildly successful new oral drug, Tecfidera, approved last spring and already at blockbuster-level sales. Now, it expects to woo patients on other injectables--including its own Avonex--to Plegridy, which is designed to be injected every two weeks.

According to company executives, shorter-acting interferons are vulnerable to a Plegridy raid. Avonex has to be injected weekly, while rivals such as Merck KGaA's Rebif are injected more often. "We believe Plegridy has the potential to be the leading interferon on the market," Biogen commercial chief Tony Kingsley told Reuters.

Thing is, with the success of oral treatments for MS, sales of interferons are expected to decline. Still, Kingsley believes Plegridy can gin up significant sales; analysts see the drug hitting blockbuster levels, with peak sales of up to $2 billion. "As the class shrinks, we will be in a position to gain share within that class," he told the news service. "The most convenient product wins over time."

The key study backing Plegridy approval showed that the Biogen drug cut annualized relapse rate by 36% compared with placebo and cut the risk of 12-week disability progression by 38%, the company said in a statement. It also reduced the number of new brain lesions by at least 67%.

Biogen CEO George A. Scangos

"Plegridy offers people with MS robust efficacy, a safety profile consistent with the established interferon class, and significantly fewer injections than other beta interferon treatments," Biogen CEO George Scangos said in the statement. "Plegridy represents the most significant innovation in the interferon class in over a decade."

Launching Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a) will come naturally to Biogen, what with its MS sales force already in place, hawking the high-powered Tysabri in addition to Avonex and Tecfidera. The company hasn't yet disclosed its Plegridy pricing but has said it expects it to be similar to Avonex's $59,000 annual cost, the Boston Globe says.

The MS market has seen a wave of new treatments over the past few years, with Novartis ($NVS) rolling out the first oral treatment, Gilenya, and Sanofi ($SNY) following up with its Aubagio pill. Despite its third-to-market status, Tecfidera has already become the best-selling MS pill. On the injectable side, Plegridy joins Teva's ($TEVA) new, long-acting dose of its successful Copaxone treatment.

- see the release from Biogen
- read the Boston Globe story
- get more from Reuters

Special Reports: Top 15 drug launch superstars - Tecfidera | Top 15 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2013 - George Scangos

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